This was highlighted by the performances of Wayde van Niekerk, who crossed the finish line to achieve a gold medal with a 400 m world list time, and Anaso Jobodwana, who achieved a silver medal with a new 200 m South African record. Four hundred meter hurdle athlete Wenda Nel secured a spot in the final, while LJ van Zyl managed to reach the semi-finals. South Africa’s top 100 m athletes, Akani Simbine and Henricho Bruintjies, were also able to reach the semi-finals in their individual events.
The concept of the “road to Rio” has been a popular phrase now that the World Championships are done. Perdeby sought the expertise of Hennie Kriel, athletic consultant and current coach of Henricho Bruintjies, to gain an understanding of what the year ahead entails.
Kriel suggested that the ultimate plan is to maintain and improve the physical form that the athletes had in Beijing, saying, “It is one thing to qualify for the Olympics, but it is another thing to go to Rio and perform with the hope of securing a final or even a podium position.” He explained that the typical athlete will come back from a World Championship event and take a few weeks off to mentally and physically recharge before beginning a carefully constructed training schedule.
The realistic expectation of success in the Olympics will differ for the individual athlete. Kriel highlighted South African sprinters specifically, who may find competing against the likes of Usain Bolt or Justin Gatlin to be daunting. He feels, however, that this should not influence the confidence of the athletes, saying that, “The goal should not be to merely qualify for an event like the Olympics, but to have the mindset of going there to perform in a way that will challenge their competitors. Just look at Wayde van Niekerk. Only four years ago he was just another South African athlete, and now he is the best in the world. This should be a huge motivation for other athletes.”
South Africa has left the world with great expectations after the Beijing World Championships and is currently one of three countries, along with the USA and Jamaica, to hold sprinting records with sub-10 (100 m), sub-20 (200 m) and sub-44 (400 m) second times. Kriel is excited about this, saying, “My dream is to see South Africa challenge the sprinting nations of the world, we have no excuse and cannot stand back. We will reach this dream with integrity, as we focus on producing the best results that we can.”
Illustration: Faith Honey